Author Archives: dover1952

Do You Visitors or Regular Readers Have Any Questions about American Indian Artifacts or Tennessee Archaeology?

We get a whole bunch of visitors and readers each day from here in the United States and around the world—certainly more than I ever thought we would have when this blogspot was launched in 2012. I can try to answer some of your questions about American Indian artifacts and/or Tennessee archaeology—if you have any. In some instances, I may know the correct answer. In other cases, I can offer you my opinion. You know the old saying:

Opinions are like buttholes.  Everybody has one.

If I cannot answer your question or offer an opinion, I can simply tell you that I do not know the answer or maybe refer you to some other organization or person who can answer your question or offer an opinion.

The only thing I cannot do is tell you the monetary value of some specific artifact you might happen to own. Professional ethical considerations are involved there, and to be quite honest with you, I and most other professional archaeologists do not keep tabs on the day-to-day monetary value of artifacts.  Count yourself lucky on that one because any answer like that from me would probably be the wrong answer.

All you have to do to ask a question is to click on the Leave a reply notation right below and to the left of the title for this blog post. After you click, just follow the on-screen instructions and enter your question into the little comment box. Any person out there on the American landscape or in foreign countries is welcome to post a question. That includes the average woman or man on the street, K-12 students, archaeology students, artifact collectors, professional archaeologists, museum employees, nonarchaeologists, people with purple skin or blue hair, etc.. Everyone is welcome to ask a question. If you want to send me a photograph or photographs of something, you may attach it to an e-mail message and send it to the following email address:

orari14@gmail.com

If you want me to post a few of your photographs here on the blog so all of our readers can see them, I would be happy to do so. If you do not want our visitors and readers to see your photographs, just let me know that in the e-mail message, and I will not post them.

I do kindly ask one thing of you. If you want to send a photograph of an object along with your question, please be aware that ancient American Indians were not caveman grunts with small minds who made “iffy” looking things out of rock. They were human beings who were, and are still today, just as fully intelligent and capable as you are—and more so in assorted ways. Therefore, any artifact they made will look like something a human being actually made. Professional archaeologists always get questions that go something like this one:

Can you look at my 5-lb rock? I was studying it real close-like last night, and for just a moment, it looked to me like I could see the vague outlines of a human skull in it.

If it is that “iffy,” your rock ain’t got no skull anywhere inside it.

Once again, if you have an authentic American Indian artifact, it will look like all or a part something a real human being—just like you—would have made:

Statue

Human-Made

 

Lawn Mower

Human-Made

Trump Bait on Hook

Human-Made

 

Rock III

Not Human-Made (Plain Old Rock Some Guy Thinks Might Be an Arrowhead)

 

Rock

Not Human-Made (Plain Old Rock Some Guy Thinks Is an Effigy Wolf Head)

Did prehistoric American Indians make the items in the last two photographs above?  No. Only an ancient American Indian with an IQ of 2 would have made something like those—and any such person with an IQ that small would have been dead by definition. If you think those are prehistoric artifacts, please check your pulse to see if you are still alive. One last time, ancient American Indians were just as intelligent and capable as any other normal or above normal human being today. Anything they made will look like something an intelligent human being would have made.

Please do not send me photographs of plain old rocks that you think might be “a little American Indian” in nature. If you cannot quickly, plainly, and clearly see that it was human-made, it most likely was not human-made. If you need to sit and stare at your rock really hard for an hour—and it “kinda looks like it might be an Indian rock,” chances are huge that it is not an American Indian artifact—————–just a plain old rock.

Please do not insult our American Indian friends and neighbors with photographs of plain old rocks like those above that you think “kinda look like something an American Indian might have made.” When you do that, you are actually saying that you think prehistoric American Indians were stupid people or somehow subhuman. Only people like President Donald J. “Bait of Satan” Trump think, say, or imply things like that about the First Americans or members of other current-day minority groups.

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Beware: More on the Madison Tablet

Our past article entitled The Continuing Search for the Madison Tablet has been permanently deleted from the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. It now rests in oblivion. If any of you kind visitors or regular readers have ever downloaded a copy of this article to your personal computer, laptop, electronic tablet, smart phone, etc., I would kindly encourage you to destroy your copy.  I need you to do that so no person can ever find your copy and misuse it for supporting science denial, creation science/intelligent design (like that stupid Bible museum in Kentucky), or any other unscrupulous or nefarious purposes.  Just remember that I legally own the copyright to that article, and if I see you using, misusing, or abusing it in any context without my written permission, you are going to court.

This message is for all artifact collectors and museums all across the United States and in foreign nations. If any person ever uses or attempts to use that article as “written proof” that the Madison Tablet is an authentic, prehistoric American Indian artifact, you need to walk away immediately and inform your fellow artifact collectors and museum personnel about the scam that someone is trying to unload on you. In the text of that article, it plainly says that the Madison Tablet may be a fake artifact. Neither is it a replica of any other prehistoric or historic artifact that has ever been deemed an authentic American Indian artifact.

We now believe that this incised limestone slab is at best some sort of weird garden rock or item of folk art that was made sometime in the 20th century—perhaps as part of a public school art class. Furthermore, it was most likely associated with one of the past Caucasian families that lived on the site where it was found during the Historic period (A.D. 1765 – 2019) in the Nashville area.

Note for the Owner of the Madison Tablet

After taking a closer look at the field circumstances under which the Madison Tablet (Figure 1) was found and after obtaining a better understanding of the person who found it in the field—and their now known inability to properly interpret what they were seeing in the field, I have concluded, beyond any reasonable doubt of my own, that the Madison Tablet is not a prehistoric or Historic period American Indian artifact. It is most likely an odd-looking piece of 20th century folk art, a piece of personal art created by a rather untalented student in a high school or college art class, or a decorative garden rock. In fact, for many years, a gardening and nursery business was located at the curb of Gallatin Road in a location very near to the large archaeological site where the Madison Tablet was found.

Madison Tablet

Figure 1. Freehand Drawing of the Madison Tablet

(Tablet Measurements are 14 in. x 10 in. x 3 in.)

As previously noted on this blog, the incisings on the Madison Tablet do not contain any of the typical artistic motifs and themes associated with traditional Mississippian period art in Tennessee or the American Southeast. In other words, the Madison Tablet does not fit in with the now well-understood canon of Mississippian period artistic styles and related mythologies. I now feel certain that my fellow professional archaeology colleagues here in Tennessee and elsewhere would agree with my revised assessment of the Madison Tablet. Indeed, I strongly suspect that my colleagues, bless their hearts, have been snickering and joking behind my back about what an idiot I was to even entertain the possibility that the Madison Tablet might be a piece of prehistoric art. This change of my mind is the primary reason why this tablet and the images incised on it were no longer used as the logo for the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute after May 2018.

The Madison Tablet was found in 1968 at a time when massive earthmoving was underway on a portion of a large Mississippian period archaeological site in preparation for construction of a “big box” Zayre’s discount store, quite similar to K-Mart and Wal-Mart stores. This earthmoving had most likely impacted the human burial wherein the Madison Tablet was found. Given the presence of a Historic period component associated with the occupation of an old house on the site, such soil disturbance would easily explain the presence of the oddball artifacts found in the grave, including a complete broken-off rim from a Mississippian period ceramic vessel and dinner table knife with a bone handle. Both the Madison Tablet and these other artifacts were likely redeposited in this human burial from some nearby location by the operation of large earthmoving equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes.

Finally, I feel fairly certain that the current owner of the Madison Tablet has seen my assorted metropolitan newspaper and social media pleas for the past 12 years—all pleas for him to get in touch with me and provide me with an opportunity to closely examine this tablet. For some unknown reason, this person has perpetually sat on their bottom and never gotten in touch with me—and so have his artifact collector friends who know he owns it. That refusal was certainly within their rights to do. I have no idea what their motives were, and I refuse to speculate any further on that matter.

For the current owner of the Madison Tablet, whoever you are, I have just one crystal clear message for you this afternoon. Here it is:

One thing all professional scientists know is that our understandings of various objects, phenomena, and processes change over time as we obtain more information and revise our perspectives in light of it. This is normal in the world of science. My recently revised understanding of the Madison Tablet has hereby officially removed it from its former status as a quite possibly authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact. As a result of this change in status, the Madison Tablet that you bought from Danny Lea or someone else for $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, or $10,000 is now officially worth maybe—just maybe if you are lucky—$2.98, meaning just shy of three dollars. As the old saying goes, “Karma can be a real bitch!!!” Life is just like that sometimes.

I will close with a brief warning to the current owner of the Madison Tablet and all other artifact collectors who read this message. If the owner of the Madison Tablet tries to sell you this tablet as an authentic prehistoric American Indian artifact from a Mississippian site in Tennessee, he will be committing a crime called fraud——-that is if he has read this message first. Any artifact collector who reads this message and is stupid enough to buy the Madison Tablet, or trade an authentic artifact for it, will lose a whole bundle of money or trade value for nothing. I know how much artifact collectors try to avoid prehistoric artifacts that are not authentic. The Madison Tablet is now officially one that you definitely need to avoid.

Why Are There No Arrowheads in Middle Tennessee?

A visitor to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog arrived here after inserting the title of this post into his or her search engine. We have only one thing to say:

Are you serious?  How old are you, and why do you ask a question like that? Do you mean “arrowheads” or arrowheads?

If you think no arrowheads exist in Middle Tennessee, you should definitely avoid coming to East Tennessee. The ones in East Tennessee are much fewer and farther between, and most of them are made out of “goose egg” Knox black chert and gray chert. The final knapping results (your desired arrowheads) are little things you would be ashamed to hang on your den wall. Their small size is a function of the small, egg-like chert nodules. Trust me. I have lived in East Tennessee for many decades and have seen more of them in the archaeology lab and in the field than I ever care to see again.

Join the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society in the Nashville area and learn about real Tennessee archaeology. It is a lot more fun and informative than just collecting arrowheads.  Contact the people listed on the following safe link to join and have fun:

Join the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society

 

Archaeology and the Oxford Comma

more-oxford-comma1

Most people have never heard of the term Oxford comma. Some of you know what it is when you see it, even if you do not know its name. Others of you never learned about it at all because your English teachers just gave up on you and your ability to remember where to insert it in a sentence.

I remember when that happened. It was circa 1971 here in Tennessee. That was the year Tennessee K-12 English teachers ripped the clothes off their bodies with their bear hands in great frustration because only three out of every forty students in a classroom could remember where to put it in a sentence. Standing there naked in front of their English classes, they and the English textbook writers got together and said:

Just forget that comma and leave it out.

Personally, I have always had a love affair with the Oxford comma. Whenever I am editing some fellow scientist’s work, which I have done very often across many years, it goes something like this with me:

Happy!!! Bouncy!!!  Happy!!!  Bouncy!!!  Happy!!!  Happy!!!  Bouncy!!! Bouncy!!! Blood Curdling Scream!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not one of them again!!!!!!!!!  He left out the Oxford comma!!!!!!!!!!

(Editing is not just a job for me.  It is a highly emotional experience.)

What is the Oxford comma?  When you are writing a sentence and you string three or more items together in a series, the Oxford comma is inserted immediately before the coordinating conjunction  (and, but, or, nor, for, so, etc.)  Here is a good example:

John bought grapes, oranges, pineapples, cherries, and apples.

That last comma right before the “and” is the Oxford comma. That is indeed its official name in the realm of English literature and grammar. Anyone who writes scientific journal articles, reports, work plans, procedures, book chapters, and books should always use the Oxford comma to ensure their writing is crystal clear.

Really bad things can happen, and people can even get killed, if you do not use the Oxford comma regularly and correctly in your archaeological writing or any other scientific writing, especially in writing engineering manuals, ES&H plans, and industrial procedures.

How does omitting the Oxford comma screw things up? Check it out by clicking on the following safe link:

The Oxford Comma: A Science Writing Must-Have

Failure to use the Oxford comma in your writing can be extremely expensive. If you do not believe me, take a look at the horror stories in the article at the following safe link:

The Single Commas That Cost Companies Millions of Dollars

If you do not use the Oxford comma regularly in your archaeological writing, you need to start doing it. A famous old saw says:

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

My favorite Princeton University alumnus, an English major and fellow writer who detests opaque scientific writing, had something different to say:

Clarity in writing is next to godliness.

Some American archaeologists aspire to becoming gods in their discipline. Please do not ask me why because I do not know. When I was in college studying anthropology and archaeology in the 1970s, the reigning god of American archaeology was Lewis Binford at the University of New Mexico. (Young archaeologists tell me there is no currently reigning god in American archaeology today.) Binford was known for being a poor writer. He became a god by hiding his poor writing from the archaeological public and having his former wife (Sally Binford) clean up all his messes on paper. If you want to obtain god-like status in American archaeology and do it the right way, reach for clarity by using the Oxford comma regularly in your archaeological writing.

Warning: Field Archaeology and Blood-Sucking Arachnids

It is springtime in Tennessee!!! Actually, as far as the weather is concerned, spring came in early February here in East Tennessee. Spring, summer, and early autumn (the warm months of the year) are the most important times for doing field archaeology in Tennessee and throughout much of the southeastern United States. Summer has traditionally been the highest activity period for field archaeology. Field archaeology is associated with numerous environment, safety, and health (ES&H) issues. One of those issues involves blood-sucking arachnids and the transmission of dangerous and debilitating diseases.

The folks at Georgia Outdoor News have just published a really interesting and up-to-date article on this subject. It is a must read item for anyone planning to do field archaeology in overgrown fields or woodland/forest environmental settings. You may read this excellent and timely article by clicking on the following safe link:

Danger of Life-Changing Illness from Tick Bite

This article is not just for professional archaeologists. It is for any young person who has enrolled in their first archaeology field school class. If you are one of the many Tennesseans who likes to participate in the major archaeological site tours (really hikes) led by archaeologists at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology or an archaeologist at one of our colleges or universities in Tennessee, the above article is for you too. Indeed, it is for anyone who has ES&H concerns and associated plans for warm weather outdoor activities in Tennessee or any other state where these little blood suckers live.

An Unusual Bifacial End Scraper from 40DV434

L-108b

This is a complete and very unusual bifacial end scraper in the overall shape of an elongate trapezoid―with the small end of the trapezoid being the base of the end scraper at its proximal end.

It may have been knapped from the broken-off distal end of a very thin, narrow, lanceolate pp/k of indeterminate type, time period, and date. The tip end of this broken-off distal pp/k forms the base (proximal end) of the end scraper.

The proximal end of the end scraper is a long, narrow, thin stem that is slightly expanded on one of its lateral edges and straight on the other lateral edge. The stem is 7.5 mm in length. Moving toward the distal end of this end scraper, along both lateral edges, the stem ends with opposing half notches in each lateral edge. Two opposing full notches (one on each side) are located just beyond the half notches, meaning this scraping implement required a long stem and double notches for secure hafting.

Still moving toward the distal end, the lateral edges of this implement continue expanding outward toward the wide bit end of the end scraper. This bit end is gently excurvate, and it has a vertical slope of approximately 45°. A small nick is present on one lateral edge of this end scraper, and another one is present near the center of the scraping edge. The sloped scraping edge is smooth from wear. This small end scraper [33 mm long × 22.3 mm wide (bit end)] is remarkably thin (6.5 mm maximum thickness).

The prehistoric time period and prehistoric cultural association for this end scraper is unknown. Site 40DV434 is a multi-component site. The most intensive occupations of this site occurred during the Middle Archaic and Late Archaic periods. Only one radiocarbon date is available for the Archaic period occupation at this site. This date was obtained from a human bone collagen sample (Burial 57), which yielded a date of 6601 – 6280 cal BP (Deter-Wolf and Straub 2019:26).

An interesting question arises here. What type of prehistoric scraping task(s) would require so strong a haft for such a small and delicate scraping implement?

Quite frankly, I have never seen such a small and delicate bifacial end scraper with double hafting like this one. Any criticism of the above text is welcome, especially with regard to the notion of it being knapped from the broken off distal end of a thin pp/k. I know I am on thin ice about that—more intuition than any hard evidence observable on the artifact. What do you think? Comments are open.

References

Deter-Wolf, Aaron and Leslie Straub 2019. Archaic Shell-Bearing Site Investigations in the Middle Cumberland River Valley. In The Cumberland River Archaic of Middle Tennessee, edited by Tanya M. Peres and Aaron Deter-Wolf, 15-41. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida.